Three prototypes to help people claim Universal Credit successfully

Discover / Define / Develop / Deliver


We’re in Week 9 of our 11-week Sector Challenge, funded by Catalyst and in partnership with four charities. Details of the scope of the project can be found in our introductory post.

Prototype and test ways of providing remote support for individuals struggling or failing to make Universal Credit claims online
Image CC BY-ND Bryan Mathers of We Are Open Co-op

We spent the first five weeks “sitting in ambiguity” trying to understand the problem space. The metaphor used while we did so was one of ‘sharpening our axe’ so that we could get our prototyping work done more quickly and precisely.

A woodsman was once asked, “What would you do if you had just five minutes to chop down a tree?” He answered, “I would spend the first two and a half minutes sharpening my axe.”

Now that we’re deep into the prototyping stage, we’re currently testing three prototypes with users, iterating based on their feedback.

Prototype A— Visualisation of Steps

The first prototype we’ve created is an overview of the steps involved in the Universal Credit process. It was created with the intention of being a friendly and accessible overview of the whole process so that potential applicants could see the steps involved.

This prototype began life as a horizontal service map:

Original Universal Credit Service Map (wide, showing different government departments)
Original Universal Credit Service Map

It was clear from our user testing that many applicants’ only digital device is a smartphone. This diagram, therefore, needed to be vertical:

Universal Credit Service Map adapted to mobile (same as the service map, but vertical)
Universal Credit Service Map adapted to mobile

Again, testing this with our charity partners and end users, they were confused by the colour key and the ‘loops’. They also did not realise they could click on the question marks for further information.

Universal Credit Service Map iterated based on user feedback (circles, with rounded lines, and no colour)
Universal Credit Service Map iterated based on user feedback

Our next iteration therefore removed the loops in favour of an approach that remains rounded. We have completely removed colour from this version so that we could test functionality.

This has been testing well with users so far, with the only real confusion being around the ‘lorem ipsum’ dummy text towards the top of each screen. One user remarked that “it says it’s in English but… that’s not English?”

Prototype B— Checklist

The second prototype we’ve created is based on a defined user need to know all of the documents and information required before starting the Universal Credit application.

Whereas the first prototype is a mockup, we have gone straight to code with this second one. The initial version was a very simple checklist that allows users to select which information they have to hand.

It uses Web localStorage so that the ‘ticks’ on the checklist are persistent across browsing sessions on the same device. The ‘Success!’ button pops up when all items are ticked:

Universal Credit checklist v0.1 (simple checklist in white, grey, and green)
Universal Credit checklist v0.1

The project team decided that it would be beneficial if this prototype had a look and feel more like the official government website. Fortunately, the GOV.UK team do a great job of documenting their work, and provide stylesheets and prototyping kits to make this reasonably straightforward.

The iteration we’re currently testing looks a lot more ‘official’:

Universal Credit checklist v0.3 (usese GOV.UK styleguide, looks ‘official’)
Universal Credit checklist v0.3

The issues we’re running into with this checklist at the moment are primarily around copy. Users assume that the checklist is part of the application form, rather than something which prepares them for it. However, this may be a function of testing prototypes with people who have already claimed Universal Credit.

Prototype C— Real time support from a real-life professional

The third prototype we’re working on is guidance for advisers who help applicants through the Universal Credit application process.

Our user research informed us that there are specific parts of the application in which users get stuck — for example, with tricky questions about relationships or who they live with. This can be easily solved when an adviser is sitting next to an applicant, but when this has to be done at a distance, it can be tricky.

We decided, therefore, to explore apps and platforms which might be able to help advisers connect with applicants, with the latter sharing their screen. The first version of this prototype was a simple spreadsheet with criteria coming from the project team and advisers within the charities that are part of the project:

v0.1 of the document helping applicants screenshare with advisers (spreadsheet with colour-coding)
v0.1 of the document helping applicants screenshare with advisers

We have turned this into a document which we are currently testing with both advisers and end users:

v0.2 of the document helping applicants screenshare with advisers (PDF of actual document with advice)
v0.2 of the document helping applicants screenshare with advisers

The main issues we’re finding in testing are that for users who only have a smartphone, using the same device to talk to an adviser, share their screen with them, and fill in the application would be a bit much.

Next steps…

We’re continuing to test and iterate these prototypes, which we’re branding differently depending on their role. The visualisation of steps needs to look friendly, and independent of the government’s application process, whereas the checklist (we think at the moment) should feel more ‘official’. The document giving advice to advisers could take any form, but we are going with some branding that reflects Catalyst in some way.

With two weeks left of the project after this week, we’re looking forward to the show and tell event we’re running on Friday (come along!) and ensuring these prototypes receive further attention once the digital team has finished work on them.

If you have any questions about the project, or expertise to lend us during the short 11-week process, please get in touch: